By Alexis Soloski
By Molly Grogan
By R. C. Baker
By Christian Viveros-Fauné
By Alexis Soloski
By Alexis Soloski
By Lilly Lampe
Some of the looks are just that: a glimpse. We watch Harrell garb himself for Look 1, West Coast Preppy School Boy, adding an untucked blue-gray shirt, a tie, and a yellow rain jacket over his black T-shirt and pants, sticking his feet into flip-flops, and donning dark glasses against the California sun. He doesnt even get near the runway, just stands and gives us a sullen stare. On to 2. All his fashion images are ironic, wittymanaging to be both apt and enigmatic. The scenes gradually take up more space, present more movement, and become more difficult to decode. Checking our lists against the numbers that Harrell hangs on a chair to announce each scene, trying to guess how each skillful costume adjustment will turn out makes spectatorship a game, with time to exchange chuckles with the person in the next seat.
Harrells subtly brillianta master of the sultry stroll, the aggressive stride, the arrogant set of the jaw. But Twenty Looks is a cultural critique, not a take-off on Top Model, 60s-style. Parsing the look and its title are part of the fun. For Eau de Jean Michel, he sits on a chair and rearranges his footwear, finally picking up and sniffing a running shoe before moving on. For Serving Old-School Runway, he combines gold high-tops with a loose gray T-shirt and an apron that shows what could be a photo of 1960s art celebs eating. His gestures are as languid as a British monarchs wave.
Pieces of clothing are re-cycled (the apron becomes a cape in Serving Superhero and flaps obligingly behind him as he sort of flies around). Various snatches of music appear and disappear. So does the sound of feet walking on a hard floor. Not until the untitled Look 11 do the bright runway lights come on. In Look 13, Legendary Face, he wears shades and hides his visage as he moves, bending and twisting, about the space, before turning that face toward the limelight. Garbo? Could be. Or not. Just as his caved-in body, bundled-up apron, and silent weeping in a stretchy black dress in Moderne (Look 18) could as easily allude to modern dance as to the memoir of an art-gallery guard we hear on tape. Look 20 (along with 17 and 19, the sections with the most movement) is titled Alt-Moderne feeling the French Lieutenants Woman; he could one second be channeling Martha Graham and the next Meryl Streep gazing out to sea. (Thats not it, Trajal? Never mind, its sort of it, isnt it? Structurally speaking?)
I love watching Harrell indicate stylesnow with down-and-dirty swiveling hips, now with weaving, undulating arms and soft stroking-the-air hands, now with high-stepping feet. Every pose resonates. In 17, Runway Performance With Facial Expressions, he makes a hurt look seem as detached as any other step.
Note the parenthetical S thats part of the title of this entrancing work. In the world of both high and low fashion, that indicates size. Theoretically, Harrell may go on to create four versions of the piece. Twenty Looks or Paris Is Burning at the Judson Church (M) is due to premiere at the Kitchen later this year or in 2011. I can hardly wait.
Pam Tanowitz studied extensively with Viola Farber, one of Merce Cunninghams original dancers, and the three men appearing in Be in the Gray With Me are current or former members of Cunninghams company. As you might expect, her choreography features articulate feet, long body lines, and movement that tells its own stories. Everything she puts onstage is intriguing, often surprising, and resonant in its implications of human behavior. You may recognize certain movements as balleticpas de chats, say, or cabriolesbut they dont have a hand-me-down look. In fact, in this piece, certain passages seem to quote historical ballets and turn them upside down; its interesting to note that three of the four composers (Vladimir Martynov, Pavel Karmonov, Alexander Raskatov, and Dan Siegler) are Russian, and Raskatovs The Season Digest is described as being after Tchaikovsky.
The Russian connection may have prompted several fetching moments. At one point, the six women dancers in the piece are clustered in a corner, standing at attention, watching Dylan Crossman solo. Uta Takemura leaves the others and holds Crossmans hand, while he balances on half-toe, the other leg lifted slightly to the side. One by one, the others replace her at this job. The passage alludes to Petipas Rose Adagio from Sleeping Beauty, except when the last woman, Anne Lentz, starts to rotate Crossman, he picks her up instead. Shortly after this, he sits, and each woman enters and dances briefly for him, as if he were being asked to choose a bride. Somewhat later, hes again on the floor, in a pose reminiscent of Nijinsky in his Afternoon of a Faun. Takemura whisks on and off the stage, looking at him like a hesitant nymph, and Theresa Ling performs (for him?), while he makes his fingers dance on the floor, as if he were marking out her steps.